WICKIEUP, AZ — Officials confirmed Sunday that a retired Northwest Fire Department fire chief and a pilot were killed after an aircraft crashed while battling the Cedar Basin Fire in Mohave County.
The Bureau of Land Management confirmed that retired fire chief Jeff Piechura, 62, and Pilot Matthew Miller, 48, were the two onboard the aircraft when the crash happened.
In a statement, The Bureau of Land Management says the crash occurred around 12 p.m. while crews were performing an air attack over the fire 14 miles east of Wikieup.
Chief Piechura is, in large part, responsible for making this agency what it is today, along with an impact across many communities.— Northwest Fire (@NorthwestFire) July 11, 2021
Formal press release to follow. pic.twitter.com/rOX12Xvo7u
Miller was a fire pilot contracted by the U.S. Forest Service, and Piechura was working as an Air Tactical Group Supervisor with the Coronado National Forest.
“Our hearts and most sincere condolences are with the families, friends and colleagues of both individuals lost in this tragic accident," said BLM Arizona State Director Raymond Suazo. "This reminds us of the inherent risks involved in wildland firefighting and the gratitude we owe to the courageous and committed men and women who serve willingly to protect lives, communities and natural resources.”
“They were very professional, very experienced. Really knew what they were doing. They were leaders in the fire community," said Delores Garcia with the Arizona Bureau of Land Management.
The Department of Interior Office of Aviation Services, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, will be handling the investigation.
“We don’t have a lot of information right now, they are working with firefighters on the ground to develop those timelines and work their way back to the cause," said Garcia.
“They were very professional, very experienced. Really knew what they were doing. They were leaders in the fire community,” said Dolores Garcia, RAC Coordinator Bureau of Land Management-Arizona
Garcia says the firefighters were already on the ground when the incident occurred.
“We’re still looking at that timeline into how far into the mission and that will be part of the investigation,” Garcia added. “We don’t have a lot of information right now, they are working with firefighters on the ground to develop those timelines and work their way back to the cause.”
“Every accident hits us intimately. Just because of how connected this community is. It has been a difficult several days if I’m being honest,” said Garcia.